Friday, December 28, 2007

"Home, Home Again"

We're finally back in Fairfax after a week on the road. In that time, we drove some 2800 miles, visited eight states, and spent way too many hours in the car.

The worst driving day was definitely Wednesday, despite it not being a tremendously long day. We went from my grandparents' house in Ponca City to Memphis, Tennessee. It damn near killed us. It snowed, rained, or sleeted the entire day, and we were completely exhausted. Making it to Memphis was a tiny miracle, really.

Yesterday's drive wasn't so bad. Shorter than we'd hoped for, sure, but the vibe in the car was 100% better and we weren't nearly so exhausted. We ended up staying in Seviersville, TN, which I think only exists because of Dollywood.

Anyway, being home is great. It was good to see all the folks for Christmas, but there's something comforting about coming home and finding the apartment still standing and the cats happy to see us.

Michelle used her Christmas money to buy a new 80 gig iPod, so now I am dealing with iPod envy. We also picked up a 750 gig external hard drive to back up our computers with. All we need is the Airport Extreme wireless router (from Apple, of course!) that we can hook the external drives into and have them always accessible, and our network will be complete!

Y'know, that last sentence was probably ridiculously grammatically incorrect, but I'm too tired to care.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Neko Case, "Hold On, Hold On"

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Notes From The Road

Michelle and I are currently in St. Louis, Missouri, visiting her aunt and uncle. It took us about 14 hours to get here yesterday, so today we're probably going to take it easy and only drive as far as my father's house (he lives about five hours from here).

We noticed some oddities on the trip over yesterday. I'll post those when I have access to a full computer rather than my iPhone. Let's just say that the Virginia Technology Corridor is a lie and leave it at that for now.

-chuck

Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "Golden Age of Radio"

Friday, November 23, 2007

Top Ten of 2007

The past year has been, I have to say, a fantastic year for music. Most of my top albums this year came from bands I hadn't really listened to before. Without further ado, here's the list:

10. The White Stripes, Icky Thump: This is a solid set of the old-school blues-inflected, muscular rock we've come to know and love from Jack and Meg White. The addition of occasional organ work and the use of bagpipes in a couple of tracks really expands the band's musical palate. The acoustic blues of "Effect and Cause" and the classic "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues" are the sort of songs Jack White must be able to crank out like nobody's business.

9. Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars: A slice of pop so rich it's likely to give you diabetes. Wainwright just keeps producing such immaculate music that you'd think he spent years crafting each song. Tracks like "Do I Disappoint You" and "Release the Stars" are uplifting, defiant, and perfect, while "Tulsa" is full of innuendo and the sort of inside jokes real fans will appreciate.

8. The Shins, Wincing the Night Away: This is one of those albums I've listened to so many times this year, it's like I can't imagine a time when I didn't have it. Building on their previous efforts while pushing their sound forward, the Shins managed to top Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow. "Australia" has a jaunty bounce, "Sleeping Lessons" is a slow-building tune that explodes near the end into an almost-jam, and "Phantom Limb" is the sort of track that will someday belong on a greatest hits collection.

7. Bruce Springsteen, Magic: It's nice to see the Boss cutting loose with a real rock record again (and with the E Street Band, no less!), but I found myself slightly disappointed in a way that he didn't bring in more elements from efforts like Devils and Dust or The Seeger Sessions. The looseness of something like The Seeger Sessions was a breath of fresh air, but the tightness of this record feels almost constraining after it. On the positive side, though, Bruce and the band brought their A-game, and these are some great tunes. "Radio Nowhere" is a balls-out rocker and distant relative of "Born to Run" or "Thunder Road," while "The Long Walk Home" and "Magic" are detailed and universal all at the same time. Definitely a strong record, if a little too tightly-produced.

6. Wilco, Sky Blue Sky: Like most Wilco records, this one took repeated listens to grow on me. The band takes a step back from the arch-artiness of their previous efforts and just plays music that's fun. There's a mellow, folky vibe that runs through the whole record, but also some of the sunshine pop leanings that were last seen on SummerTeeth (and anything that recalls that glorious album is welcome in my book). On the whole, the album feels closer to the Autumn Defense (a side project of two of the band members), with its '70s soft rock and singer-songwriter aesthetic than anything off of A Ghost is Born or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. "What Light," "On and On and On," and "Hate it Here" are standout tracks, and the second half of the record definitely feels stronger than the first half (though the first half does include "Impossible Germany," a song with one of the coolest titles ever), but this is a real grower of an album.

5. Josh Ritter, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter: I hadn't heard of this guy until I read about him in No Depression, but I really dig his stuff. A folk-rock vibe and a tendency to cram too many words into a phrase (a la Dylan) make this guy entertaining to listen to. The fact that he cranks out fantastic, folky pop songs with great hooks and sing-along choruses doesn't hurt. Songs like "Right Moves," "Wait for Love," and "Empty Heart" have spun so many times on my iPod that they're all up in the top 25 of my most-played tunes.

4. Radiohead, In Rainbows: This download-only album that shattered the notion of content delivery last month is a fantastic listen. Even more so than on
Hail to the Thief, the band seems to have found that delicate balance between their arty inclinations with their need to cut loose with some guitar rock and struck the perfect balance. My favorite track has to be "Bodysnatchers," with its snarling guitars, stuttering drums, and nigh-incomprehensible lyrics. Definitely one of their strongest albums from beginning to end, regardless of how the music was made available to the public.

3. The National, Boxer: This is a record I downloaded on a whim (after seeing them mentioned in a music blog), and I have to say that I've never looked back. These guys have a fantasitic vibe and energy, full of interesting rhythms, intricate guitar work, and compelling yet cryptic lyrics ("Showered and blue-blazered"? What the hell does that even mean?). Standouts include "Fake Empire," "Start a War" (featuring one of the most emotionally-charged lines I can recall in recent memory, "Whatever went away, I'll get it back again"), and "Apartment Story." But really, there's not a bad track on the album, and you'd be doing yourself a favor to pick this album up at the first available opportunity.

2. Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga: These guys just kick ass, period. From the strutting, defiant opener, "Don't Make Me a Target," to the echo-laden "You've Got Yr Cherry Bomb" and the horn-inflected "Underdog," there's not a bad song here. Pulling from a variety of influences and styles, yet always sounding of a piece, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is the sort of record you never get tired of listening to.

1. The Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: Hands down, the best record I've heard all year. I got it at the same time I picked up the new Shins, and this one has just grown on me so much. I've listened to the record so many times, I can't believe it only came out this year. It's been in constant rotation on the iPod (and was on constant rotation in the car on CD when I was without the iPod adapter this summer), and "Keep the Car Running" is just one of the best songs I've heard all year. Again, though, there's not a bad song on this record, and the blending of unusual instrumentation (there's lots of mandolin, a church organ, and accordion) with tunes that seem like the bastard child of Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie is a style that just works so well. Definitely my album of the year.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger: Too slick for its own good, with all of the rough edges smoothed away and shined to a high gloss. But some of the tracks - "Two" and "Pearls on a String" in particular - are fantastic, and if he can strike a balance between this and his work on Cold Roses, the next album could be a classic.

2. Mark Knopfler, Kill to Get Crimson: A song about a painter killing someone to get their blood to use as paint? Awesome. Strong from beginning to end, though no song really stands out from the pack. Like much of his solo work, this record is solid and warm, with the subtle guitar work and gently-sketched stories about average folks.

3. Iron & Wine, The Shepherd's Dog: Expanding the sonic palette from his earlier work, Sam Beam crafts an album that owes as much to Granceland-era Paul Simon as it does to indie rock. But damn, does it work! A great record that probably would've been in the top ten if I'd had more time to process it.

Black Friday

In that post-Thanksgiving lull (oh, glorious, glorious tryptophan!), I find myself watching Stargate (the movie, not one of the series) and vegging out on a Friday morning. Good times.

A lot of the commercials I saw this week indicated that some stores are opening up as early as 4.00 am. I'm pretty certain it wasn't that ridiculous last year or any previous years. I always thought the earliest the stores opened was 6.00 am, and even that was excessive. Seriously, who's so intent on getting their shopping done the day after Thanksgiving that they'll drag themselves to the store at 4 in the freakin' morning to shop?

Sadly, I expect the stores were actually packed at that hour.

Michelle and I have decided to do all of our Christmas shopping online to avoid the idiocy of the whole thing. Personally, I think it's the best solution.

So we have - in case people were unaware - adopted two cats. They are the cutest things ever. They're sisters, about 12 weeks old, and very friendly. The black one we named Ninja Steve, and the gray striped one we named Cecilia.




Poor Ninja Steve has a fungal infection that started out on her head but has expanded to a spot on her hind leg, the base of her tail, and behind an ear. We're taking her to the vet on Tuesday to see if they can do anything about it.

We picked up the new OS X Leopard on Wednesday. So far, I'm real pleased with it. Sometime before the end of the weekend, I'm going to set up boot camp and get Windows on here, too...not because I desperately want to have a Windows operating system on my computer again, but because there are a lot of programs that are just easier to find or get through Windows than Mac. It's a matter of expediency and ease of use, that's all.

Later this weekend, I'll post my list of favorite albums from this year. Damn, was it a good year for music.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Arcade Fire, "(Antichrist Television Blues)"

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Burnin' Ring Of Fire"

Halloween came and went.

I went as Johnny Cash, though it was mostly because that's all I could think of at the last minute. Michelle went as the ol' standby, Static Cling (always a great costume, I feel).

Dunno how much I actually looked like Johnny Cash, but hey, what can you do.



We're already at the end of the first quarter at school. Hard to believe it's already November.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"And For Her I'll Go Back"

So, long time no see. A lot's been happening since last I posted:

1. We're nearing the end of the first quarter at school, thank God. Michelle's been run almost ragged by all the stuff on her plate, but she still seems to enjoy the job well enough.

2. The weather's been yo-yoing back and forth all month. The first half of October felt more like June, but the past week has been nothing but cooler temperatures and rain. Lots of rain. Oh God, the rain. And tonight it's supposed to get down into the 30s.

3. I got an iPhone.

4. What more do you want? iPhooooone.

I'm really happy with the iPhone. I was skeptical about the things for awhile there; I mean, I knew Apple stuff was pretty damn awesome (I still love my MacBook Pro and iPod), but the thing seemed gratuitous. Then Michelle got hers about a month ago, and playing around with it convinced me that this was a device worth having. 'Sides, I still needed a new cellphone since mine was dying.

We've got a Halloween party at school on Wednesday. I'm still trying to figure out what I want to go as. If I can find a Green Lantern shirt, I may try to do something with that (we've been watching a whole lot o' Justice League this past week) (yes, we're tremendous dorks).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "Me & Jiggs"

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Across The Universe

On Saturday, we saw Julie Taymor's Across the Universe, a musical featuring a soundtrack composed entirely of Beatles songs re-recorded by people who are most definitely not the Beatles and Bono.

My friend Emily firmly believes (and I'm inclined to agree) that certain bands/musicians should be off-limits when it comes to covers. Among these are the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin (do we really need another garage band trying to do "Stairway"?), Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and Leonard Cohen, but that's by no means a comprehensive list. The real problem, as we see it, is that most folks just can't do the songs justice. They get it wrong or just don't add anything worthwhile to the songs.

Now, lots of people have taken, for example, Bob Dylan songs and created definitive versions (the Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic "All Along the Watchtower") that far surpass the originals. But when you're talking about the Beatles...man, those guys laid down the definitive version on record back in the 1960s. You can't improve on "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" or "All You Need is Love."

Unfortunately, that didn't stop Julie Taymor from trying. There are a few moments in the film that do work--the use of "Girl" to open the film was a nice touch and really established the main arc of the story--but most of the songs featured in the film were there because the title happened to fit (nevermind whether the actual content of the song had anything to do with the scene).

The moments that do work work well: the aforementioned opening scene with Jude sighing the song "Girl," a gorgeous scene and effective use of the tune "Dear Prudence" that actually manages to sound sweet and ephemeral, Eddie Izzard's suitably bizarre spoken-word rendition of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!"--but most of these songs add no new dimensions to the original recordings. Sure, we've got a lot of young twenty-somethings with nice voices running these songs through their paces, but the arrangements have no real depth to them. For the most part, they rely on folky acoustic guitar, occasional touches of strings, and plenty of piano. Sure, the songs performed by Sadie and her band try to rock out in a Janis Joplin sort of way, but Sadie's voice really can't carry the whole Janis thing and the band seems to lack real muscle (and don't get me started on the "bluesy" solo version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that Jojo does), something that tracks like "Oh! Darling" and "Helter Skelter" really need if you're going for the Janis Joplin angle.

And then there's Bono.

Don't get me wrong, I like U2 well enough. There's a time and a place for his '80s arena rock bombast, but "I am the Walrus" ain't it. Even the abhorrent Oasis version of the song is superior to Bono's take. The only thing worse than Bono singing in the film was Bono talking in the film, in large part because he adopted one of the worst American accents I have ever heard.

The real problem with Across the Universe is that Taymor seemed to think that just throwing in a bunch of Beatles songs, naming all the main and secondary characters after characters in Beatles songs, and slapping in some love story set in the midst of the Vietnam War is enough to make a compelling film. But the characters never gain any real depth. The main characters--Jude, Lucy, and her brother Max--get some development, but no real growth (Jude's big moment of insight appears to be that his "involvement" in something bigger than himself can come from singing "All You Need is Love" on a rooftop), and the secondary characters never get any development at all (poor Prudence comes and goes through the film for reasons that are never explained even a little bit).

The other issue with the film is that it can't decide what it wants to be. Part of it wants to be a serious musical that celebrates the Beatles' canon and tells a serious story about the difficult lives people had during the 1960s. The other part wants to be a surreal romp through counter-culture ethos, complete with drug trips, hallucinations, and Eddie Izzard setting up a circus in a tent six feet across. The movie tries to do to much, and it just can't bear the weight of its own conceits.

Ultimately, Across the Universe isn't a terrible film, but it is a fairly pointless one. Your life is not richer for having sat through the thing, and if you weren't already convinced of the greatness of the Beatles, it ain't gonna make you a convert. All it really did for me was make me put on the White Album on the ride home.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Beatles, "I am the Walrus"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The Land Where You Can't Change Lanes"

I've been receiving mail at school addressed to the "Chair of the History Department."

I am so getting business cards with that printed on them.

My cellphone has been declared braindead. Pushing the button that increases the volume was instead dialing the number 4 every time. Not really all that helpful. So you can kind of understand why I was in need of a new cellphone this weekend.

Michelle got an iPhone.

That's right: I needed a new phone, but Michelle got an iPhone. I got her old (identical to my crappy dead) cellphone. I'm still not really sure how that happened.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Cake, "Mahna Mahna"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Superbad

Michelle and I went to see Superbad last night. We were quite surprised at just how good a film it was and at how well it portrayed that gawky awkwardness of being a teenager. It was a great coming-of-age type of story, one filled with self-realization and personal growth tempered by the reality of being 18. Plus, the fat kid was actually the main character and hero, which is unusual and welcome.

But it got us to thinking: our generation (that which came of age in the 1990s) really doesn't have a good high school coming-of-age flick. The '70s had Porky's, the '80s had the John Hughes films, but what did we have? American Pie? What the hell kind of coming-of-age film is that, where the key scene involves a guy violating a pie? It leads me to wonder if the people around my age are all idiots or something.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Foo Fighters, "Keep the Car Running"

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Break My Arms Around My Love"

It's been a hell of a weekend.

Michelle and I spent most of Saturday relaxing and not really doing much of anything. We cleaned up the apartment and watched the Riff Trax for the Mariah Carey abomination Glitter.

Let me explain.

See, Riff Trax is the thing the guys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 do now. You download an MP3 of the commentary, sync it up with the movie (generally a well-known blockbuster), and hilarity ensues.

So yeah, we did that. I felt rather dirty afterwards, but it was funny. God, that was a crappy movie.

Today was rather...rough. See, I went and sold my car today. I've been driving it for the past four or five years. It was the last thing my parents gave me before I left Oklahoma, really. Getting rid of it was significantly more emotional than I thought it would be, and it really left me feeling drained by day's end. Coupled with the fact that I didn't get as much money for it as I wanted (almost $1000 less than I'd hoped, really), it was frustrating.

But it makes sense for us to only have one car, really. We're working at the same place now, on the same schedule, and her car gets much better mileage and stuff than mine did. So we are officially a one-car family.

It's the first time I haven't personally owned a vehicle since I was 16, so it's a strange feeling.

I finally gave in to peer pressure and picked up the first season of Heroes on DVD. It's a pretty cool show, and I have to say I'm liking it so far (only two episodes in, mind you).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The National, "Daughters of the Soho Riots"

Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Am I Singing You The Right Blues?"

It's been a gorgeous day in Northern Virginia. I sold my Epiphone beater guitar earlier this morning to a guy just learning to play. Sold the crappy electric on Thursday. This frees up space in my collection for a 12-string. I am happy about this prospect.

Started getting my grade book in order for the coming school year this afternoon. I'm trying to plan things ahead this year and do stuff that'll be easy to implement regardless of whether I'm the one implementing it or not.

There's a reason for this.

See, one of our student's needs US History, but he isn't available during the two periods the class is offered for various reasons. So we're doing it as an independent study...except I'm not available the period he'll be doing it, and neither is the other history teacher.

So we've got the PE teacher facilitating the IS and me putting together the content. Wee.

I am really looking forward to the coming school year, though. I get to spend almost the entire day teaching history, which could possibly get old after awhile, but it's better than getting crammed into a math class again like I have been the past couple of years.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "The Next To Last Romantic"

Who Picks On The Man Of Steel?

So Pete Seeger has apparently written a song bashing Josef Stalin.

Which would've been nice about, oh, fifty years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I dig Pete Seeger. The man did more to bring folk music into the popular culture than just about anyone (except maybe Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan, but there are those who would argue the point). His music remains as elemental and relevant today as it did fifty years ago. But a song about Ol' Joe now? What's the point, really? Stalin's been dead for decades, and no one still thinks he was a "good guy" really. Just because Seeger used to be a member of the Communist Party (he parted ways with them back in 1950, though). It's weird, really.

Granted, I'm sure it's a fun song, and he does still write relevant and contemporary pieces (he wrote a song about living in a post-9/11 world a few years back, actually). But this seems...too little, too late, maybe? I dunno.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Josh Ritter, "Right Moves"

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My wife and her sisters...

...are recounting stories from their childhood.

I am amazed they survived to adulthood.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Rilo Kiley, "The Moneymaker"

Saturday, August 25, 2007

"Who Among Us Is Still Afraid Of Choice?"

Michelle was offered and accepted the job at Accotink on Friday. She'll be the Event Coordinator, PTSA liaison, and a co-teacher in three English classes. She's very excited but also very nervous about it. We both head in to get ready for the new school year on Monday.

It means a lot of changes for us. We'll be commuting together, so there's a good chance I'll be selling my car. This actually has a lot of benefits: we won't have to pay my car insurance anymore or buy gas for it. That's about $350-$400 a month we'll save. We're thinking of looking for a new place closer to the school so we could cut our commute time. It'd make sense, if we're headed to the same place each day. We'll also, of course, have the same schedule, which is fantastic. Now we can take vacations together and be off on the same days. No more worrying about whether or not we'll be able to get time off so we can take trips. So that'll be groovy.

This afternoon, we took the Wii over to Michelle's parents' house. Everyone had a lot of fun playing, and I think her parents are really interested in picking one up now. We also had pizza, which is always great.

Tomorrow we're celebrating Michelle's youngest sister's birthday. We're also probably cleaning the apartment. Then it's back to the grind (well, a new grind for Michelle).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Charlie Sexton, "The Regular Grind"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Don't You Feel My Leg"

The trip to Oklahoma was...well, it was. Michelle finally got to meet my family (most all in one go over at dad's house), and everyone seemed to like each other. The whole traveling thing was a rough experience, though. We barely made our flight out to Oklahoma, and then we almost missed the (much too early) flight back to DC yesterday (that's due in large part to my inability to navigate and the fact that I forget where I'm going or how to get there a lot of the time). We also ended up spending a hell of a lot of time in the car for a four-day trip (over 600 miles in that time). But it was good to see everyone; my cousin's daughter has grown, my brothers both have steady girlfriends, and we got the chance to play guitars in heat of the Oklahoma night once more. Good times.

We have Teacher Orientation/Work Days all next week. While I'm ready to get back into the daily grind of it all, I really do wish I had a few more weeks to relax and not do anything. The trip to Oklahoma really wore me out, and I don't know that I'll be recovered by the time school starts.

Michelle is actually currently interviewing for a position at the school. Part of me feels this will be wonderful, and part of me worries about us working at the same place and both of us being teachers. But I'm sure everything will work out as it's supposed to.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Shins, "Australia"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Looking For Store-Bought Bones"

We're only a few days away from the trip to Oklahoma to meet all the family. Michelle's kinda nervous about meeting them all in one go, but I'm sure it'll turn out fine. My family's just excited a got married; as long as she's breathing and has a pulse, my family will like her.

We got a Nintendo Wii over the weekend. The thing is freakin' awesome. The Wii Sports game is great for a group (as we discovered Saturday night; drunken boxing is so much less difficult than Jackie Chan movies would have you believe), and Super Paper Mario is one of the best games I've played in ages. It's a great mix of action platformer and a hint of RPG elements. Gameplay is innovative and intuitive, which isn't necessarily always the case with these things.

Really, the Wii does just about everything right. It's real easy to set up and play right out of the box, the controller is versatile and easy to use, and it's got a lot of functionality and creative possibilities without being too gimmicky. Sure, it may not be the graphics horse that the X-Box 360 or the PS3 are, but Nintendo has opted to go for style and substance over flash. And make no mistake, the system can still crank out some nice visuals. Super Paper Mario, for instance, isn't as fancy-looking as, say, Gears of War or whatever other games they've got running on the other systems. It does have it's own unique sense of style, and there are nice little flourishes throughout the game (like how each new world is "drawn" as if by an etch-a-sketch when you first enter it) that are really appreciated.

So yeah, definitely a system worth having, if you can find one (took us a week and a visit to about 15 or so different stores, not including the stores we called beforehand to see if they had any in stock).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Camera Obscura, "If Looks Could Kill"

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Why does everything I whip leave me?"

Michelle and I embarked upon a great and noble quest to find a Wii tonight.

It didn't go so hot.

Discouraged and distraught, we drowned our sorrows in The Simpsons Movie. I definitely recommend it. It manages to recall the glory days of seasons 4 and 5 without seeming too nostalgic for those early halcyon days. Good times.


Only four more days of summer school left to teach, then I get a two week break. Michelle and I are bound for Oklahoma on the 17th to visit family members and eat way more food than we probably should (that's what you do when you visit family, after all).

The Quest for the Wii will continue next week when I am done with school. I have a cunning, brilliant plan that will no doubt work quite well if only I remember to wake up early enough to implement it.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The White Stripes, "Ball and Biscuit"

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Twenty-Twenty-Twenty-Four Hours To Go-o-o"

Things I have accomplished in the last twenty-four hours:

1) Started feeling much better (still kinda don't have much of a voice, though).

2) Bought groceries.

3) Vanquished the Evil Smell in the Kitchen (it was something in the fridge, which had to be purged of its contents, purified with fire and bleach water, and consecrated by members of the local religious community before we could restock it with edible food).

4) Watched some Monty Python's Flying Circus.

5) Hit baseballs at a batting cage for the first time in about a decade or so.

6) Got access to the Dim Bulb site via FTP again (so I uploaded somethin'!).

7) Slept like a baby and dreamt that PT Cruisers got 50-odd miles to the gallon, but only if you bought the basic model (the fancier models, however, only got 25 or so MPG).

Yes, I am truly a Renaissance Man.

I also bought the tickets (well, on Tuesday night, actually) for Michelle and I to fly to Oklahoma in a couple of weeks. The ostensible rationale behind the trip is to make an appearance at dad's wedding reception party, but the tacit reason (well, guess writing it down here doesn't make it so tacit, does it?) is to give Michelle a chance to meet the rest of my family. We're taking a side trip out to Wichita to see Mom as part of this little jaunt, so I actually rented a car as well (the first time I've ever rented a car). I anticipate good times and way too many embarassing childhood stories from my grandfather.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Hem, "Not California"

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

K-Fed Focused on Parenting; Music World Heaves Sigh of Relief as Parenting World Stands Terrified

Apparently the former Mr. Britney Spears is gonna focus on being a parent.

Which is great and all, really. Lord knows the world needs another so-called "celebrity parent" talking about how hard it is to raise kids with all that money. And hired assistants. And did we mention the money?

I'm really not sure who would make the worse parent here: Britney, with her crazy partying and inability to find suitable undergarments (or spell check), or a man who calls himself "K-Fed" and already has a history of being something of a deadbeat dad.

Really, the winners in this are the children, I think.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "English Girls Approximately"

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"There's a Bob Dylan reference in this movie just for you."

I am currently watching Music and Lyrics with Michelle. It's actually not a terrible movie. I admit a certain fondness for Hugh Grant movies, though I couldn't tell you why.

I've been sick all weekend. Whether it's allergies or whatnot isn't really clear to me, but Lord knows I hate not being able to breathe. And God, the phlegm...so much phlegm. It's made it tough for me to sleep through the night and such, but at the same time it's making me ridiculously sleepy. This only happens about once every six or seven months, but it's always a pain when it does.

Tuesday is when I present my Final Portfolio. I printed it out earlier this afternoon. Fifty pages of crap. Woo. I will be glad to get the damn thing done finally, as it's been a long time in the works. It also marks the end of my classes until at least September, which will be nice.

Looks like Michelle and I will be heading to Oklahoma next month for a few days of hanging out with the folks. The impetus for the trip is, technically, Dad and Vivian's wedding reception (seeing as how they got married a couple of weeks ago). For me, the greater draw is taking Michelle to see the family members she hasn't met. So that'll be fun.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Cake, "Italian Leather Sofa"

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter and the Pop-Culture Phenomenon

My wife is waiting anxiously for her copy of the seventh and final Harry Potter book to arrive at our doorstep. Her sister got it for Michelle for her birthday (which is this coming Wednesday), and all I've really heard about all week is "Harry Potter this" and "Harry Potter that." Nevermind spoilers or controversies over copies released early or reviewed by newspapers before the book was issued; my wife's been a one-woman Harry Potter frenzy (in fact, she just called me to ask if the book had arrived yet).

Personally, I'm not all that hot and bothered over the end of the series. I'm sure Rowling, who's made a fortune and a half cranking out these tomes (dear Lord, will someone teach that woman how to edit?!), will find some other way to continue milking the cash cow for years to come. And just because this is the end of this particular series doesn't mean she can't do the whole spinoff thing. God knows she put together a large enough cast for these books that they could all easily have their own series and the world would never want for more wizarding adventures.

But no, I don't really feel like this event has any impact on me (except insofar as it impacts so many of the people I deal with on a daily basis). I never got into the whole Potter craze. I've only seen the most recent film in the theatres; I have watched the other four, but all on DVD well after they came out. I have never purchased one of the books; I borrowed them all from friends. And while I think the books are nice in their way, I can't say I've ever been particularly blown away by Rowling's prose (the pseudo-Latin she used for magic spells still kinda irks me, and the very obvious character names--Lupin gthe werewolf, for cryin' out loud!--seemed too transparent to me. I know we're talking about children's books here, but c'mon). She tends to give way too much detail, but the detail doesn't really add to the story, characters, setting, or our understanding of the world she's created. It's all rather superfluous.

I'm probably in a pretty tiny minority in my opinions about all things Harry Potter. I've never really understood why the whole world seemed to have gone crazy over a set of (what I perceived as) mediocrely-written novels about a school of wizards and witches mixed in with a coming of age story. Garth Nix's Sabriel mixes supernatural powers and coming-of-age much better, as does Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching young adult novels.

But anyway, yeah, we're waiting for Harry Potter here at Casa de Branco-Cottrell. Woo.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "The Waiting"

Thursday, July 19, 2007

"For No Reason, Here's Apu"

My vacation is at an end. Hafta return to work in the morning. I can't say I'm particularly thrilled to be heading back to work, but the money's good and I do enjoy my job to a large extent.

And, as I said, the money's good.

Michelle, of course, gets the rest of the week off still. Lucky.

We spent the first two days of the week doing a whole lot of nothing. Wednesday we went to Luray Caverns, which was pretty nifty and a nice way to spend the day. Granted, we had a small child in the group that made we question whether having kids was ever really a good idea, but that's just what happens when there's a little kid whose mother won't take control of him.

Watched Pan's Labyrinth on Tuesday, and damn if that isn't a great flick. Sometimes it's hard to believe that the same guy who directed (and wrote!) that film also directed Blade II.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Spoon, "Don't Make Me a Target"

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Poor Man Wanna Be Rich, Rich Man Wanna Be King"

Today is my six month-iversary. That's right, Michelle and I have made it six whole months without her killing me! This is truly a cause for celebration.

And we are, kinda. Next week, she's got the week off and I'm taking a few days off myself. We're looking on going on a little mini-vacation to just get the heck out of town and relax for a couple of days. God knows we could use the break.

Summer school is going well, but I don't remember it wearing me out this much last summer. Maybe I'm doing more work this summer? It's possible. Lord knows I'm working the kids pretty hard.

I've been listening to the band Spoon a lot lately. This is not a bad thing, I feel, and it's definitely something I could get used to.

In other news, I probably could use a haircut, but it ain't gonna happen. This hair shall get long enough for a ponytail, I swear it!

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Adam Raised a Cain"

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"I Think It Was The Fourth of July"

Happy Independence Day, folks. We here at Casa de Branco-Cottrell spent it grilling burgers and watching Moonstruck and Seinfeld. Good times, good times.

Summer school's started up, and the students are not particularly happy about it. I can't say that I blame them: summer school isn't the most fun possible for a bunch of kids who really just want to relax and forget everything they've spent the previous 9 1/2 months learning. There's also the stigma that's always been attached to attending summer school; i.e., that you are dumb or stupid if you have to go to summer school and you must've flunked a bunch of stuff during the regular school year.

That's not really the reality for summer school at Accotink. We call it ESY--Extended School Year--and the idea isn't so much remedial "damn you're stupid kids" as it is "these children would benefit from extra educational services during the summer so they maintain and further develop necessary academic skills and don't forget everything over the course of two and a half months away from books, blackboards, and teachers." A lot of people might say I'm splitting hairs there, but there's a very different tone and approach between the two.

I rather like teaching summer school. The atmosphere is much more laid back and relaxed, I can wear jeans or shorts to work (I always wear sandals during the summer; once the school year ends, the shoes get put away and I'm barefoot as often as possible. This is what comes of being raised in Oklahoma, I think), and we take the students on field trips each day. Some of the field trips are pretty cool--we go see movies, play laser tag, visit nifty museums--and I think the teachers have at least as much fun (probably more, in some cases) as the students. I also get to tackle a different subject--writing--that offers a unique set of challenges I don't encounter in history. In terms of writing ability, our students really run the gamut, so you have to be able to ratchet your thinking up and down in terms of expectations of ability and such. But it's pretty groovy overall.

I bought Michelle's birthday presents tonight. Well, ordered it, anyway. Should arrive by the end of next week, I think, and then it's just a matter of keeping the presents hidden until her birthday actually rolls around on the 25th. I think she'll dig what I found for her.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Decemberists, "Yankee Bayonet"

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Call You Up On The Telephone"

So the iPhone comes out today. I have to admit, I'd really like to be able to buy one (so would Michelle), but it just ain't gonna happen. For one thing, I don't have the time or patience to stand in line all day for the chance of maybe getting one. For another thing, it's damned expensive. Seriously, $400 or so dollars is a lot of money to shell out. And who gets one first, me or Michelle (the answer, actually, is Michelle. The deal was she would get an iPhone, I would get a guitar. Dunno if either is gonna happen for awhile, though)?

The other thing to consider, of course, is that this is just the first generation of the iPhone. It'll have bugs and kinks to work out. I figure it's like the iPod: I went several iterations without one, so I can probably last awhile before getting an iPhone as well. Second generation at the earliest, I think. Get all the potential issues with the touch screen worked out, maybe a bit of a price drop, things like that. And my phone--despite its aquatic adventures a couple months back--seems to be doing okay. It'll hold a charge, though it usually holds it in the one-to-two-bars-left region rather than the three-to-four-bars. Such is life.

This is the last non-weekend day of my two-week vacation. Summer school starts on Monday. On the one hand, I'm excited, 'cause summer school is fun and it'll be great to have that pulling in extra money this summer instead of it being my only source of income (I'm lookin' at you, last summer!). An extra $3000 for six weeks of fairly easy work is not a bad deal. Granted, I'm a little concerned with the student list we've got for this summer. Lots of difficult-to-work-with kids, often lumped into the same class. And so many of them are signed up for all six weeks! It's like someone has it in for me or something.

I've got a lot accomplished this past week. The apartment's in pretty good shape: I got the spare room finished up yesterday and all of the clean clothes put away, the downstairs is in a fairly decent state of repair, etc. I haven't finished as much on some personal projects as I'd wanted, but I still have the rest of today to work on stuff (and to mail out mom's birthday present so it gets there by Tuesday. Crap, I always forget something!).

Anyway, guess I can't really complain about the two weeks off. Most jobs don't have as many breaks as teaching does. When you think about it, I get more than a month's worth of paid vacation every year: a week and a half at Christmas/New Years, a week in the Spring, two weeks now and two more after summer school, and various three-day weekends scattered throughout the year. It's a pretty sweet deal, though I still don't think we receive the pay our job deserves (seriously, some of our teachers are at school until 10:00 every night working on crap for students so they can succeed in life. That's dedication and often thankless).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Kings of Leon, "Holy Roller Novocaine"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"We Don't Need No Education"

Apparently even former supporters of No Child Left Behind are finally seeing the light and speaking against it.

As a teacher, I've had to contend with this steaming turd of a piece of legislation for the past couple of years now, and I don't think it's actually accomplished anything. The thing about government initiatives in education is that it takes the better part of a decade before they're really implemented, and then it takes two or three years to actually see any effect. So the claims that NCLB has already had an impact is absurd. The improvement in American children's reading and math test scores are more likely the result of something Clinton implemented back in the late '90s than of Bush's NCLB.

The other problem with the law, of course, is that it puts so much weight and importance on those damn standardized tests. Standardized tests (like Virginia's SOLS)have consistently been proven by independent research to be one of the worst ways to measure what a student knows. In some instances, such as with the Woodcock-Johnson III assessment, they can be a useful way to measure ability in basic skill sets, but using them to see if a student learned anything in History or Science or Algebra? Crap. So many students suffer from nigh-crippling test anxiety or simply cannot take standardized tests. And at the other end of the spectrum, you've got the students who test higher than they actually are. I was always good at standardized tests. I knew how to work the test, knew how to pick answers and guess when I didn't know the actual answer. It's no more an accurate measure for someone like me, then, than it is for someone who has difficulty with word problems and test anxiety.

The other issue I have with NCLB is that it's supposed to create "accountability." Okay, yeah, we want to make sure kids are actually learning something in school. I get that and can appreciate the concern. But there's a quote in the article I linked by Bush where he says that he wanted to "insist you measure in return for the billions we spend on your behalf."

Because, y'know, the best way to get a school that's performing below expectations is to threaten to cut their federal funding. That's freakin' brilliant.

Of course, the very notion of this administration asking for someone to be accountable for something would be laughable if it wasn't so depressing. Between the President throwing money at the Iraq conflict, the Vice President deciding his office basically doesn't belong to the Executive Branch (the fact that the Vice President's office was created in the same constitutional article that created the executive branch notwithstanding), and the way they've handled everything from taxation to immigration to classified information and documents, it's absurd that they'd want someone else to be accountable when they still don't even seem to know the meaning of the word. Of course, at the same time, it makes perfect sense: someone else has to be accountable, not Bush or his administration. It's SEP: Somebody Else's Problem.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, "Teach Your Children Well"

Monday, June 25, 2007

"Coin-Operated Boy"

One week of vacation down, one to go. I've enjoyed not having to go to work all week, but it'll be nice to have structure to my day again.

Admittedly, I've got plenty of things to do around here. I need to clean up again downstairs, the upstairs still cries out for attention and organization, Michelle's car needs to be taken in for inspection, and I need to work on some personal projects. All in the next four and a half days.

Hmm.

I don't know what it is about unstructured time that encourages sloth. Maybe it's the realization that one doesn't have to be anywhere by a set time, so one has all the time in the world to do what one wants before one has to meet obligations. Possibly. Alternately, I might just be really lazy. Don't think that hadn't occurred to me.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Dresden Dolls, "Shores of California"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Oh, and...

Rob Sheffield, you are a freakin' moron who wouldn't know good music if it walked up and started insulting your mother.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Traveling Wilburys, "Handle With Care"

"This Is Bat Country!"

Vacation is a great time, though I find the unstructured nature of it to be a bit problematic. See, as much as I hate being constantly busy with something-or-another, I also need structure to keep me focused. The time I was most productive was when I was in my first year or so of graduate school. I was taking a full load of classes, writing and researching papers all the time, working 30+ hours a week, and getting at least three comics drawn per week. I was also writing a song or so a month, traveling to Ozarks once a month, and writing short stories and the like. Every day was full of things to do, and I excelled under the pressure of constantly having things to do.

Now...well, I sleep in late, which is nice, but it means I'm wasting three or four hours per day when I could be doing important stuff. I lounge around quite a bit rather than working on things like comics or papers or stories or songs (or chores, even). Sure, I still get stuff done--I've washed all our clothes, cleaned up the kitchen, and cleaned up the living room just since Wednesday, not to mention making a trip to the grocery store, getting replacement bulbs for Michelle's brake lights, and making a trip out to Target for needful things--but I get the feeling I could have accomplished more.

Really, there's a sense of complacency that I don't much care for, a feeling of apathy towards the things I know I love to do and would enjoy doing if I just sat down and did them. I've got plans--big plans--for the future, but I have to get off my ass and work for them. Is all this the result of having to work full time as an actual adult? Or am I just giving up on things too easily?

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Eagles, "Take It Easy"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"I'm Working On My Abs"

With the school year officially over now, I've got time to focus on a few things that I've wanted to do for awhile. One is work on getting the comic on a more regular updating schedule, which means drafting out ahead of time so I can just draw and go. There's also, oddly enough, a rather academic paper I want to work on about Bruce Springsteen's use of the road as a metaphor for salvation and desperation. I've jotted down notes and know several songs I want to use, but I need to do some deeper research into a few elements before I start actually writing.

One thing I really want to work on, though, is my body and weight. I've let myself go since the heady days of 2002, when I could run three miles without issue in Oklahoma in August (and in less than 30 minutes, at that). Graduate school and my move to Virginia have both taken their toll on me, though really the only thing to blame is my laziness. I've gained a significant amount of weight, and I want to start working that weight off. I know it's going to take awhile to get back to where I was that summer of Yellowstone, but I think I can do it. To start, though, I have to go slow. I'm going to walk everyday for 45 minutes to an hour at least. I'm also going to do stomach crunches. And eat more healthfully. The plan, of course, is to get back to where I can run a mile or two by the end of the summer. I'm already off to a good start. On Monday, I played kickball with the school for a couple of hours and got quite the workout. Today, I walked for almost an hour and did 100 crunches. My goal is to lose 30-50 pounds this summer. If I stick to it, that will be in keeping with previous trends.

There are other things, too. I cranked out a rough draft for a children's book in school this year as part of a project the English class I team-teach was doing, and everyone who's read it so far says it's really good. I want to rework it a bit, fix some dialogue issues, and do up some illustrations for it and see if I can't get it published. That'd be sweet.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The National, "Start a War"

"The Gayest Show On Earth"

So on Sunday I attended the True Colors concert with The Denton and Laurmo. Michelle was supposed to go, but she got a deathy migraine and was down for the count.

The first half of the show was fantastic: The Gossip, Dresden Dolls, and Rufus Wainwright each put on a hell of a show. The Gossip had fire and punky chutzpah, the Dolls had quirky minimalism, and Rufus had...lots and lots of stripes. Like, everyone in his band was wearing a variety of conflicting striped clothes. He was also wearing lots of sparkly brooches. He also happened to play a fantastic, subtle set of tunes from Want One and his latest, Release the Stars.

The second half of the show didn't really click with me: Debbie Harry of Blondie (sporting an outfit I'd swear I've seen my grandmother wear--if buttoned a little more properly on my grandmother--and a white headband and looking totally stoned out of her mind), electronica gents Erasure (who did all of the instrumentation for their show on a MacBook Pro), and Cyndi "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" Lauper. None of whom I cared a bit about, I'm sad to say. They also had the luxury of longer sets, mostly because the earlier acts are all younger and stuff (which was criminal. I didn't need an hour of Erasure, and thirty minutes of Rufus Wainwright was only enough to whet the appetite). Cyndi Lauper's surprising acoustic rendition of "She Bop" was pretty cool, though.

Margaret Cho, world-renowned fag hag and funny woman, MC'd the evening. She offered up between-set banter ranging from politics to gay culture, and it was all fairly amusing if rather conventional (well, as conventional as anything at a gay pride concert thing can be, that is. Let's just say the topics and positions on said topics were not surprising). Rosie O'Donnell, surprise guest star, did an amusing stand-up stint following Debbie Harry that was quiet enjoyable (and got a lot of mileage out of her tussle with Donald Trump).

All in all, it was a fairly entertaining evening. Rufus and the Dresden Dolls made the evening for me, though watching hundreds or even thousands of gay men and women dance to Erasure was pretty damn funny to watch, too (and dude, someone needs to tell the lead singer he really needs to stop dancin' around. He doesn't dance gay, he just dances poorly. There's a difference).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Dresden Dolls, "Coin-Operated Boy"

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band - Live In Dublin

I'm still of the impression that the Boss's We Shall Overcome is one of the best albums of last year. His reinterpretations of old traditional and folk songs were phenomenal and made for some of the most vital music Springsteen (or anyone else, for that matter) has put out in quite awhile.

The live souvenir album from the subsequent tour is a rather different beast than the loose, shambolic studio record. For one, the band has really tightened up and gotten used to playing with one another. There's a connectedness between the musicians that's quite remarkable, especially when you think that they've only been playing together for a year or so and there are about 17 or 18 of them. That interplay is the real draw of Live in Dublin. By the time of the Dublin shows at the end of the tour, the Sessions Band was comfortable enough to really cut loose and dig into not only the We Shall Overcome material, but some of Bruce's own songs. These reinterpretations are both surprising and very, very welcome. "Atlantic City" takes on a sinister road song from down South of the Border feel. "Further On (Up the Road)" sounds more wistful and hopeful as an Irish ballad than it did as a straight-ahead rocker, which is much more in fitting with the lyrics of the song. "If I Should Fall Behind" is more affecting here than it ever was on Lucky Town (where it suffered greatly because of the production values of the late '80s/early '90s. Damn you, polished and glossy sheen of late '80s/early '90s rock!). "Highway Patrolman" is touching and achingly beautiful here. And damn if the jumpin' rave-up of "Open All Night," done in the most hopped-up swing ever committed to record, isn't a church-tent revival sort of revelation. "Blinded by the Light" is surprisingly effective in its gussied-up tango, too.

There are really only two complaints about the record: first, it's missing some of my favorite tracks from the Springsteen show I saw on this tour (namely, "Ramrod" and "Cadillac Ranch." Honestly, I could've done without "Long Time Comin'" or "Further On (Up the Road)"); second, Bruce really needs to relax. This is part of a trend in Springsteen's vocal histrionics I've noticed for awhile; while I dig the man's voice, he really does try too hard. He's straining when he sings. You can see it in his neck and forehead, and you just want to take him aside and tell him to calm down and take it easy.

But really, those are minor complaints to have. The album as a whole is fantastic, and it really took me back to that night at the Nissan Pavilion last summer when I had the chance to see the band for myself. This whole collection (and We Shall Overcome, coincidentally) have the feel and flavor of an old-time tent revival; there's joy, vitality, and energy in this music that's so often subsumed in the flavor of the week, style over substance crap we usually get from the music industry. It's nice to hear people who are out there playing and having a damn good time with what they're doing. Everyone needs to hear this.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band, "Highway Patrolman (Live)"

Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full

I admit a weakness for Paul McCartney albums. Ever since Flaming Pie, I feel like the guy's been on a good streak. And yeah, there are certain caveats with any McCartney record--you know there's gonna be filler, there's a good chance it'll dip into sugary-sweet, sappy love songs at some point--he's generally a very reliable songwriter. Honestly, if you take his body of work as a whole, he's written more excellent pop-rock songs than just about anyone else in the world. Period.

Memory Almost Full doesn't quite live up to the latter-day standards set by such fare as Flaming Pie or Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, but it's a solid effort with lots of bits to recommend it. The album's biggest flaw is that it feels so piecemeal; songs were recorded at different times with varying degrees of backup musicians (a handful of tracks featuring his backing band from Driving Rain, some feature just McCartney and another musician or two, and the majority are solo Macca). There's a disjointed, disorderly feel to this collection, despite the subtle overall thematic cohesion (many of the songs deal with death, dying, aging, and mortality). I can't fault McCartney for aiming too high--this is a record that tries very hard to be McCartney's definitive statement on mortality and the aging process, and manages to come across rather well in that regard--but the record as a whole falls short of this lofty goal. He seems to want the record to be a tour-de-force, an amalgamation of his previous efforts, styles, and experiments all rolled into a single tidy record. It's even got the Abbey Road-esque "pseudo-suite" second side, where there aren't any breaks between tracks in the second half of the album. Unfortunately, it ends up more sloppy than eclectic.

It starts out with the minimalistic "Dance Tonight," a song that Jack White could've possibly written (though in his hands, it would've been rather more menacing and less engaging than it is here). Mandolin, a simple thumping drum, and subtle bass and electric guitar give this song a directness and simple elegance that belies the arch blandness of the lyrics. "Ever Present Pass" sounds like a McCartney-ized version of the current mainstream rock trends (chunky guitar and synth riffs, thumping rhythm section, self-absorbed lyrics). Clearly, McCartney's been listening to the radio and taking notes. The trick, of course, is that McCartney plays the hook on a harpsichord rather than a guitar or piano.

It continues from there in fairly typical McCartney fashion. There are love ballads, song about wacky British characters, and trips down Memory Lane with detours into Nostalgia Drive. McCartney has a lot of tricks in his bag, as he usually does: vaguely hip-hop beats and rhythms in "Mr. Bellamy," a psych-out string intro to "You Tell Me," a straight-ahead rocker from left field at the end of the record with "Nod Your Head." The record sags in the latter third, weighed down by McCartney's efforts to be an Artist (capitol A) and an average guy down in the trenches of love or whatever making things a little too complicated. When he relaxes and lets the music do its thing--like on "Dance Tonight," "Ever Present Past," "Vintage Clothes," "That was Me," and "Nod Your Head"--the music is as good as anything he's done in the past decade or two. Sadly, he can't seem to leave well enough alone, and he constantly tampers with songs in the immaculate-bordering-on-fussy production style that he's always favored.

Ultimately, this McCartney album is a consolidation of his work, a look back over where he's been and what he's done. It's also a bit of a look forward; several songs hint that McCartney is still well aware of the trends in contemporary pop-rock and even a little willing to adapt some elements from those trends into his own work. While the record is more remarkable for what it attempts than for what it accomplishes, and it certainly won't bring any new fans into the fold who aren't already convinced of McCartney's excellence, it's still a solid record from a guy who's made enough albums in his life to know his craft. The craft here is undeniable, and when it's married to actual enthusiasm (such as in "Dance Tonight" or "Nod Your Head"), it's undeniably catchy.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Paul McCartney, "Mr. Bellamy"

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Flame On!"

I never saw the first Fantastic Four movie, just as I never saw the Daredevil or Electra or Ghost Rider flicks. I haven't really ever been all that impressed with most of Marvel's main heroes or teams (okay, I dig Spider-Man and the X-Men), and the movies based on those properties have been (with the Spider-Man flicks and the first two X-Men flicks aside) pretty damn horrible. Sure, people go to them, but I think we (by which I mean the geeks who dig comics) should demand better comic book movies, not this pappy crap.

That being said, why does Jessica Alba always look like a rather stunned squirrel? I swear, she's got this vacant expression that says, "I could be replaced by CGI all the time instead of most of the time and it would have been a better casting decision."

Seriously, why was this movie made? I didn't think the first one did well enough to warrant a second effort (if you can call it that).

Like I said, I haven't been that impressed with Marvel's offerings of late. Granted, I'm not much of a Marvel fan in generally usually (I do like Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men, and Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men is pretty groovy). My tastes run to DC's Vertigo imprint, mostly (Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Matt Wagner's Sandman Mystery Theatre, Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, etc.). But even when I go for a superhero comic from one of the Big Two, it's usually a DC title (and usually Batman, for some reason). Maybe I just prefer their style more. Maybe it's the pulp tradition that seems to creep into their work more often. Maybe it's the fact that the angst isn't so teenagery (Marvel's heroes always struck me as kinda whiny).

All of this is by way of saying that I'm really not going to go see the new Fantastic Four movie. I don't think that makes me less of a geek (especially since I've spent most of the evening reading comic books).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Arcade Fire, "Neon Bible"

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Gonna Take 'Em Down To The Cadillac Ranch"

Graduation yesterday was good, aside from the commencement speaker's oratory turning into a recruitment speech for the military industrial complex. The school seems rather empty today, what with those eight seniors gone and a handful of underclassmen absent. Seems the end of the year apathy has gripped the student body in its icy, careless hand.

I woke up feeling vaguely ill today. For most of my drive to work, I fought the urge to throw up. I've improved in condition since then, but I still feel kinda funky and clammy (though that could be from the high humidity we're experiencing in the wake of yesterday's massive storms). Hopefully I'm not coming down with something.

I am sad to see this school year come to a close. We're losing some good teachers (and some good friends, coincidentally) and students. The character of this place will change subtly between now and September, I'm sure: we're getting a new director, several new employees, and a batch of new students and returning students who have to deal with all the changes. It's probably rather overwhelming for them; hell, it's almost overwhelming for me. But it's the nature of life for things to change, for circumstances to shift and alter as time passes. Change is the human condition, for better or worse.

Anyway, tomorrow is the last Friday of the year. Monday is a half-day. Tuesday is (aside from my education course that night) freedom.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "One Step Up"

Monday, June 11, 2007

"This Establishment Sells Intoxicating Beverages!"

We're down to one week of school. Wednesday is graduation, and the students are basically done learning as far as I can tell. A week from now, I'll finally be free...for a couple of weeks, anyway.

Michelle and I have been watching the Bruce Campbell series Jack of All Trades. We really don't know why the show didn't last longer than it did (about a season and a half). Sad, really.

I also recently watched the second volume of Justice League Unlimited. I have to say, i wasn't nearly as impressed with the second season as I was with the first.

Spent a lot of time last week digging the new Paul McCartney and the live Bruce Springsteen CDs. I know a lot of people rip on Macca for being too poppy and too melodic and saccharine, but the man still crafts a pop song better than just about anybody out there. I may try to post reviews of those two albums later this week.

I've fallen way behind in comicking. I hate that. Time was, I'd have comics cranked out and drawn weeks in advance. I thought nothing of creating storyline after storyline, random joke after random joke. Those were the halcyon days of '03 or '04, as I recall, back when Dim Bulb was more than just me posting a comic whenever I could get around to it.

It's now after 11.00 pm. I've had to stop several times for various interruptions. There was a time when a post like this would have taken a scant five minutes to write; now, the words don't flow as freely as they once did. Nothing does, really: comics, writing, songs...none of it is as easy and effortless as it was only a few years ago. What's changed? Is it that my work is more demanding? That I have more claims on my time? Have I just hit my creative peak and now I'm on the decline? Probably a little early for that; I'm only 27, after all. But it's frustrating none the less. I used to be much more prolific in virtually everything.

I also used to be unmarried and very single. Dunno if there's a connection there yet or not.

Anyway, I am ready for a bit of a break. I've got some ideas for an academic paper, actually, that I really want to pursue. It's gonna require some odd research, though, to make it work like I want. We'll see what a couple of weeks of solo work time offer up.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Bruce Springsteen, "Open All Night (Live)"

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Who Drove The Red Sports Car?"

Things that have happened today:

1. My in-laws' planned visit was pushed from this evening to tomorrow afternoon, which gives us more time to prepare the apartment for their arrival.

2. I finally went to to the eye doctor and got contacts and new glasses. I'd almost forgotten what it was like having peripheral vision and not having to clean my damn glasses every ten minutes.

3. My knee (the one I hyper-extended a few weeks ago playing kickball with my students) is really hurting today. Michelle thinks I have fluid in there that needs to be drained off, but I figure that it would've been a problem long before now if that were the case. I have limited bending and full-but-painful rotation on the knee, it supports my weight, and it's a little inflamed around the offending joint. Also, it mostly hurts just above the knee and along the outside of the kneecap. Dunno if this is just part of the hyper-extension still healing up or something else, but it got so bad that I could barely get in and out of my car after my eye appointment.

Only a little over two weeks left of school. I have to say I'm glad it's reaching the end of the year, though I'd love to get farther in the curriculum for U.S. History and I'd love to have more time to cover music in Humanities. World History II ought to fit just about right, though I'm gonna have to rush the post-WWII stuff a bit (that's mostly just the collapse of imperialism, as far as the curriculum is concerned, so it shouldn't be that tough).

I will be sad to see some of the seniors leaving, I'll admit. They've been a good crop, and though I only have a few of them in my classes, I've enjoyed it.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Neko Case, "Timber"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Open Letter

Dear Reality,

Please stop dumping storms of shit on my friends now, 'kay? I'm married to a woman with mob connections, and I will not hesitate to have them take out your kneecaps. Thanks.

~chuck

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Misadventures Abound

So much happens in 24 hours.

The barbecue at the in-laws' place was good. Friends, family, and food are always a great combination as far as I'm concerned. We had Michelle and her sisters, Emily, Lauren, and myself all crammed around the dining room table with Michelle's parents. Good times.

Chad was supposed to have joined us, but someone decided to steal his car, so that became problematic. We're still trying to figure out why someone decided to steal his car out of the parking lot, since Dodge Neons are not really high up on the list of cars likely to get jacked (especially when there are some really nice cars and such in the parking lot of his complex. Strange but true). We spent a good part of last night cheering Chad up and getting him really, really drunk (3/4 of a bottle of decent white wine did the trick).

Didn't get much sleep last night. Maybe two and a half hours. I'd blame Michelle, but it's probably my fault for responding when she asks a question instead of pretending I've already fallen asleep. We talked until about 3:00 or so about all sorts of stuff, and then I nodded off for a couple of hours before dragging myself out of bed to face the 14 hour day I now get to go through (I hate the Tuesday night classes, I really do). Michelle apparently didn't get any sleep at all, which is just peachy.

Anyway, off to class. If I don't post again for awhile, it's because I got tired of the asshole who's teaching the course and killed him. Let me know if you're privy to any good places to bury a body.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Neko Case, "Star Witness"

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon"

Three-day weekends are arguably the best weekends.

It's been hectic around here, what with trying to get all the end-of-the-school-year stuff crammed into students who have already checked out mentally, Michelle getting sick every other week, and the dozen or so other commitments we have placed on our meager free time.

That, and we've been watching a heckuva mess of Scrubs. All five season sets, in fact, in the past three or four weeks. We sorta went a little Scrubs-happy. Also got all four seasons of Jeeves and Wooster on DVD. Damn you, clever British comedy based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse!

We've been trying to get the apartment in order this weekend. Things tend to fall apart rather quickly around here, mostly due to the fact that Michelle and I both have busy schedules and don't really want to do much in the evenings after we come home from work (well, except watch Scrubs). We're also kinda lazy.

Found out yesterday my father is getting remarried, this time to his current girlfriend (Vivian, who came up with dad to visit me back in early April). Part of me is surprised by this move, but part of me saw it coming ages ago. Still not really sure how I feel about it, but I do know this: I definitely have to remember that her name isn't Vicky now (this was a problem I was having for awhile, mind you).

I've been teaching the students in my Humanities class about music history the past few weeks. It's been very successful, I feel. Most of them are really enjoying it, and the ones who aren't will enjoy the project we're starting at the end of next week (they'll be presenting their own favorite music to the class). I've been making mix CDs for them every few days, which they love, but it's a bit of a hassle on my part and something I want to make simpler if I do this again next year.

The idea I had for next year, actually, is to make these things available as podcasts. I figure, mostly (if not all) of my students have some sort of MP3 player and computer access. The students could go access the podcast playlist and have all the stuff I'm going to talk about.

I could even take it one step further: record all of my class lectures and make those available as podcasts. It'd be great: if a student didn't catch everything in a lecture of was absent one day, they could just go download the lecture and listen to it. I've already started talking with Shirley, the school's tech person, about the feasibility of getting a Blackboard site or something similar set up so we could do this.

Granted, I'm also going to have to make my lessons more structured and I'm going to have to plan ahead more for all of this. I'm thinking of taking some time this summer to plan out the entire school year for each class I'm teaching and get things put together ahead of time so I can get through my material at a better pace. Lord knows I've struggled with pacing stuff the past couple of years, especially in American History.

Barbecue tomorrow at Michelle's parents' place. I love me some hamburgers from the grill, that's for sure.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Rufus Wainwright, "Tulsa"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"Gone Fishin'"

Michelle decided she wanted fish.

So now we've got fish. Lots of fish. Though they do seem to be dying quite quickly.

See, we started out yesterday just buying a betta (kinda like the Greek letter, only spelt differently) and stuff for that, but she decided she wanted more. We found a 30 gallon aquarium on Craigslist for less than $100, so this afternoon we drove out, picked up all the stuff (the folks gave us everything for it, including all the fish), and we've spent the evening getting it all set up and getting the fish in there. About half of them didn't survive the transfer to our place since they spent the trip over in a juice jug. But we've still got a fair crop of them left (about half). We'll see how they're doing come morning.

I've never really been partial to fish. Really never cared much for pets in general, mind you. They just never really mattered all that much, I guess. I mean, I like dogs and cats and everything, and they certainly like me (I'm convinced that animals can recognize who is and who is not an animal person and home in on them with alarming accuracy to punish, pester, and otherwise annoy), but I didn't have pets growing up and never really wanted them all that much.

We'll probably end up getting a cat this summer at some point, mostly because Michelle really misses having cats around. Exciting, yes?

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Hem, "Not California"

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Sky Blue Sky is an album of dichotomy and tension, it's just all buried underneath some of the mellowest music Jeff Tweedy and company have ever put to record.

The music, which blends the sonic template of A Ghost is Born with tunes that sound as though they could have been written during Being There, is straight-forward and eschews the arch artiness of the band's more recent work. The songs are generally mid-tempo, the instrumentation is basic (guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, etc.), and the melodies hint at something which could've come from their work on the Mermaid Avenue project. The sound and feel of Ghost remains with this record, even if the experimentalism is gone. Gone also are the odd sonic elements from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the band's other watershed album. In their place we find clean, open production that takes a bit of the sonic palette from Ghost and applies it to the most direct batch of songs Tweedy has written since the band's first two albums.

There is an air of calm to these songs, a pop songcraft that finds the band playing as a genuine band instead of a collection of hired gun musicians chasing Tweedy's muse of the minute down the road. The record feels like the work of a cohesive group pulling together and putting to tape exactly what each song demands. Tracks like "Shake it Off" and "Hate it Here" sound like the sort of effortless pop song that Paul McCartney's made a career out of churning out. There are elements of the Band in these songs, too, especially in the organ that pops up occasionally (courtesy of Pat Sansone), the folky guitar strumming (from Tweedy and guitar hero Nels Cline), and the backing vocals on tunes like "What Light" (easily the best track on the record).

The dichotomy of the album becomes clear when you examine the lyrics. While the music sounds as though it comes from a place of peace, the lyrics often deal with issues of isolation, loneliness, and desperation. The themes of separation and removal (from society, from another person, from one's self) are repeated again and again across the lyrics, lending a bizarre sort of sadness to many of the songs. You feel as though Tweedy went through hell and came out the other side with these words, then married them to a collection of tunes that bely that darkness on purpose. This is music from beyond the despair, music about the redemption of the lost individual and the return from the wasteland with a kind of enlightenment.

That said, the record has an ebb and flow to it and a few weaker spots. I've read several reviews that call "Side With the Seeds" a standout track, but it really just sort of bores me with it's faux blue-eyed soul rhythm and vocal delivery. "Please be Patient with Me" is too slight to have much impact. But tracks like "Impossible Germany," the folky title track, the aforementioned "What Light" and "Hate it Here," the jauntily bouncing "Walken," and the elegiac closer "On and On and On" are all on par with anything the band's done.

Sky Blue Sky is a solid effort from a band that's still functioning in peak condition. While it may not be the go-to Wilco album (that still remains Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or SummerTeeth), it's certainly a worthy addition to their catalog and a record that's sure to grow on you with each repeated listen.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Wilco, "Walken"

"Happiness Is A Warm Gun"

Virginia is officially off it's damn nut.

The thing started when New York City started prosecuting several gun shops (six of which are in Virginia) over illegal and shady sales of guns later used in crimes in New York City. A sting operation in Virginia revealed that there's are plenty of ways to get around gun restrictions, and that Virginia's lax laws are especially easy to circumvent.

So the City of New York decides to prosecute a few of these gun shops for this, and now this gun-rights organization, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (whom the Washington Post referred to as a group that thinks the NRA is spineless and soft on gun laws) decides to hold a raffle to give away guns to help pay for the legal fees for the prosecuted gun shops.

Seriously, what the fuck?

What gets me is that this is still happening despite the tragedy at Virginia Tech last month. Even worse, the gun who heads up this collection of nuts thinks that if there'd been someone with a gun at Virginia Tech that day, they could've stopped Cho.

Again, what the fuck? How is arming college students while they are in class a good idea? How will that not lead to more tragedy?

I get awful sick of how these people hide behind supposed 2nd Amendment rights and use it to justify giving access to weapons to convicted felons and unstable personalities. A little history lesson, people: the emphasis of the Second Amendment is not on the right to bare arms, but on the right to form and maintain a militia for the "security of a free state." That means we can form volunteer armies, not that we can carry a high-powered assault rifle to class or down the street. The Founding Fathers didn't wear guns on their hips at all times. There was a time for war and for weapons; when that time passed, the weapons were hung back over the mantle and left to gather dust.

I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I hear about a gun-rights group advocating for their "Second Amendment right" to protect themselves. Bullshit. You have a right to form a volunteer army if we're invaded, not to sell guns to people who turn around and commit crimes with them. I swear, I thought I left this idiot mentality when I left Oklahoma.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Ryan Adams, "Easy Plateau"

Monday, May 14, 2007

What The Hell, Pitchfork?

I am, as I'll be the first to admit, a pretentious, elitist ass. Mostly it's that I think my taste or choice is superior to someone else's: music, movies, books, comics...I'm under the impression that my choices have more weight or validity than another person's.

But even I balk at Pitchfork.

Their recent review of the new Wilco album (out tomorrow!) is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. They basically take the band to task for making mellow, content, straight-forward music. The reviewer is savage and seems to take glee in hammering at Jeff Tweedy and Co. for creating an album that isn't as self-consciously arty or experimental as either Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born.

Since when did experimentalism for the sake of experimentalism become something to value in and of itself? It's really part of my whole complaint against indie music as a genre and an aesthetic. Sure, a lot of mainstream music is crap. But the whole "anything that anyone else might possibly like is automatically crap" hipster shtick is tired and ridiculous. It's apparently cool to hate things, or so you'd think from reading Pitchfork.

What's ironic, though, is that Pitchfork tends to perpetrate the same sort of sins of conformity that their non-indie rock-crit kin commit. There's this notion of hating things that everyone else likes, yes, but there's also an element of "this band is the Next Big Thing," said in such a way that you can hear the capital letters. They're just as guilty of being bandwagoners as anyone else, it's just that they pride themselves on loving the obscure and the weird. And they love it not because they actually genuinely like the music, but because it's obscure and weird and experimental and no one else not in the little indie club has ever heard it. There's this aesthetic that prizes non-listenability over music that's actually enjoyable.

I think that's where my main gripe is: the indie aesthetic is focused on out-pretensing the next guy rather than on music that they actually like. You get the sense that the indie kids listen to stuff not because they like the way it sounds, but because they feel they're supposed to. It's really just as bad as liking flavor of the week mainstream band, and it drives me freakin' nuts.

I guess it's stuff like this that's the reason I can never really stand most of the other people who listen to the music I ever listen to.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "One Dime Blues"

"And You Want To Sing Along"

Things of note:

1) I hyperextended my left knee on Friday playing kickball with the students at field day after our camping trip. It hurts like all get-out, and kneeling is currently almost as painful as listening to an Avril Lavigne song (zing!).

2) Speaking of painful musical experiences, who in the hell let Green Day cover a John Lennon song? And why oh why did it have to be "Working Class Hero?" That's a brilliant, understated song that they bludgeoned to death with their power-pop chords and heavy instrumental passage. Subtlety is dead and its killers stand before you, I guess.

3) New Wilco and new Rufus Wainwright out tomorrow. I'm sorely tempted to call in late to work so I can go pick them up, but I'll probably just run out after my class and snag them.

4) Final Portfolio (the follow-up to the dreaded Midpoint Portfolio that was the bane of my existence all last fall) starts tomorrow. It's taught by the same overbearing, drunk on her own minuscule power professor that taught it last time. Round two shall go to me, I swear it.

5) My wife still rocks more than anyone else in the world, and we've officially been married four months as of yesterday. That's a third of a year, and she still hasn't suddenly decided I'm too dorky to be married to. This is a good sign.

6) I'm currently doing a music unit in the Humanities class. It is totally awesome that I'm getting paid to make Mix CDs (for the students) and listen to/discuss music. This is why I love teaching.

7) The Elliott Smith compilation that came out last week, New Moon, is amazing. As good as anything he actually released on record, and that's really saying something. He's one of those guys whose leftovers are better than most bands' best efforts.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Elliott Smith, "Either/Or"

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is it really all that "New" anymore?

Well, looks like New Hampshire is going to allow broad same-sex civil unions, making New England (as the Washington Post article points out) the first region in the U.S. to have every state grant some measure of the right to gays and lesbians.

I really hope the New England tourist board (if there is such an organization) makes New England's new slogan "New England: it's okay to be gay."

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The White Stripes, "Blue Orchid"

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Last Thoughts on News Radio

So Michelle and I have been watching Season 5 of News Radio this past week or so, and I've reached several conclusions (spoilers below, but I figure a TV show that ended almost 10 years ago is beyond the statute of limitations at this point).

1) The lose of Phil Hartman hangs over the final season like a tangible thing. Honestly, every time Jon Lovitz opened his mouth, I found myself thinking, "Phil Hartman would've delivered that so much better." The first few episodes of the season were noticeably awkward because they were heavy on the Lovitz character, but as the season progressed they pulled it away from him and focused on other characters. The show benefited from this. After all, Phil Hartman's character may have been funny as hell, but he wasn't the main focus on the show. Regardless, his absence really affected the tone of the show and sort of killed the joy in it from the very beginning.

2) This season seems really heavy on Andy Dick's Matthew instead. And while Matthew is fine as the weird character, he really can't sustain an entire episode very easily. Honestly, the main character of the show seemed to me to be Dave. He was certainly the character you were usually meant to identify with. The fourth season did the whole long storyarch on Matthew (the whole firing and rehiring thing), but the focus always seemed to be less about poor Matthew and more about how Dave was doing his best to get Matthew back at the station. The shift in focus hurt several episodes.

3) The writing, while still strong, just...wasn't as good as previous seasons. Dialogue wasn't as snappy or smart, plots weren't as interesting, and characterization didn't jive with previous seasons as well. New characters, such as Lovitz's Max Lewis or Patric Warburton's Johnny Johnson, weren't very developed. And familiar characters didn't behave in ways that made sense. Lisa deciding to marry Johnny was mere plot contrivance, not something the character would have probably done.

4) The season--and series--didn't end convincingly or satisfyingly. Everyone but Dave decides to head off to New Hampshire? Well, everyone but Dave and Matthew...it was a funny throw-away joke, since Matthew was the only character Dave really wanted leaving, but to end the series that way? No satisfaction in that sort of sadism at all.

Anyway, there were some fun moments. The exchanges between Jimmy and Johnny were great; the storyline about Jimmy allegedly being D.B. Cooper (the infamous plane hijacker who jumped from a plane with $200,000 and was never seen again) but ultimately proving that it was Adam West? Stroke of brilliance. The elements were still there, but everything seemed just the slightest bit off. As a completest, I was glad to add it to my collection, but when I reach for a season of News Radio to watch at random, it won't be this one.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Hem, "It's Not California"

Monday, April 23, 2007

"These Hippies Sound Like You Guys"

It's been a crazy week and some. Lots of interesting things to share:

1) Michelle is totally alive still. She's still a little weak and gets worn out easily, but she's on the mend and went back to work today.

2) I found out I'm teaching summer school, so that's groovy. Extra income, hurray!

3) I caught a mouse at the school Saturday night while Shirley and I were working on a project for class. I felt very manly.

4) My tablet arrived in the mail today. Chuck is a happy monkey.

That really sums up the cool stuff. I'm totally gonna have some comics drawn this week.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Rufus Wainwright, "Chelsea Hotel #2"

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ode To Gallager

My home state is just freakin' weird.

Granted, Oklahoma is the state where the state bird is migratory, the state song is a show tune, the state plant is a parasite, and the state fruit won't even grow there.

Now that I think of it, the watermelon as state vegetable makes perfect sense (though I always assumed the state vegetable was your average OU Sooners football fan).

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Hem, "You Came To Meet Me"

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Sailors Sailin' Off In The Morning"

Michelle's came down ill this morning, feeling dizzy and faint and feverish with a sore throat and tightness in the chest. She went home immediately after reaching her office, and I came home after second period to take her to the doctor's office. Turns out she's got tonsillitis and bronchitis, which is loads of fun. So we both took the rest of the day off, her to rest and me to take care of her. Dunno how she'll be feeling tomorrow, but she's on antibiotics and is currently napping.

Our taking the day off meant we were home to watch the news about the shootings at Virginia Tech that took place today. It's just mind-blowing, thinking about the thirty-odd college kids who were killed today.

It's looking like the authorities in charge of the whole situation are under heavy fire from all sides for their handling of the murder investigations. The fact that there were two separate incidents--a double-homicide at 7.15 and the larger group massacre around 9.30--but that the administration did not lock down campus after the first incident is just bizarre. As the details of this case become clearer in the coming weeks, I hope it all starts to make sense...well, as much sense as something like this can make.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Charlie Sexton, "Regular Grind"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Is There Just A Little Room?"

So the Great Music Exchange of '07 (pronounced "Aught Seven") was fantastic. We ended up with over 3700 new songs from Chad and Emily, which is a hell of a lot of music to now try to assimilate. We got everything from Morrissey and the Smiths to David Bowie, Jesse Malin, and everything in between. Sooo much music.

We also discovered I'd been charged for an extra month on eMusic, so I had 75 more downloads to use there. Burned through those in about five minutes this morning.

So yeah, lots of new music. Chuck a very happy monkey.

Yesterday we had a leak in the ceiling in the kitchen. Apparently the bathtub upstairs decided to leak into the kitchen after three of us took showers yesterday morning. They sent a guy out to fix it, so we'll have to see how that went.

Coincidentally, the ceiling of the breakfast nook at Michelle's parents' house apparently caved in this morning for similar reasons (though I think it was the toilet leaking there that did the deed). So that's rather odd timing.

Beyond that, it's a dreary gray day here in Northern Virginia. It started raining yesterday afternoon, but it's just continued virtually unabated since then. That's the thing about Virginia weather compared to Oklahoma weather: in Oklahoma, it comes bursts, beginning and ending so fast you hardly noticed it happened. Here in Virginia, weather hangs around, reads your newspaper, asks if there's any pie left that it could have. Things like that.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Clash, "Rudy Can't Fail"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"If You Wanna Ramble"

Yesterday was Soap Box Night, the annual school talent show. It went pretty well: there weren't any glaring technological issues, most of the acts went off without a hitch, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves pretty well. I did three acts: a song with my co-teacher, Jeremy, another song with a couple of students and a couple of teachers (the song was in Turkish; luckily for everyone involved, I was only playing rhythm guitar there), and a skit with a couple of other teachers. The second act I was in--the one with the students and teachers--went a little awry, mostly because the student playing drums got a little over-enthusiastic. You couldn't hear the rest of us very well. It wouldn't have been as much of a problem if he'd played the right beat, but he was playing something completely unrelated from the actual song, so I was off-tempo, the student playing lead was off-tempo, and the two teachers singing had no clue where they were. It was rather awkward, I'm afraid.

Tonight is the night of the Great Music Exchange. We've got Chad, Lauren, Emily, and Lauren's brother gathered here, ready to trade music back and forth across computers. It's very exciting.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Flaming Lips, "Knives Out (Live)"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Looking For A Black Cat...

Happy Friday the 13th, folks. It's pretty quiet here at school, despite the impending Soap Box Night tonight (our annual talent show). I'm participating in a couple of acts, mostly playing my guitar (once for myself, once for a fellow teacher). The students are excited, but it's still pretty low-key.

Weekend's gonna be full of stuff and goings-on. We're helping Michelle's father set up an awning thing on his deck tomorrow during the day, and we're doing the Great Music Exchange of '07 tomorrow night with Emily (the idea being that we've all got really great stuff that the others want to hear, so we're gonna do a little trading. Good times). Sunday is possibly given over to visiting with one of Michelle's friends who is in town this weekend from Boston.

Had a busy but rewarding Spring Break. Car ended up costing about $2100 overall for all the various repairs effected to it. Dad's visit went well, but it was exhausting. I saw a great concert--Sean Lennon--last Saturday and another great show--Jesse Malin--on Monday. Rock.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: Camera Obscura, "If Looks Could Kill"

Friday, April 06, 2007

"'Cause I'm The Taxman"

So my federal income tax refund this year is going to be a little over $900.

This is, I should say, rather groovy.

And almost makes up for all the money I've had to spend on my car since last week.

Almost.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Traveling Wilburys, "Nobody's Child"

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

I only started listening to the Decemberists a couple of months ago. I started with their first record, Castaways and Cutouts, I've started kinda working my way forward.

'Cept I kinda skipped ahead a bit and picked up their latest record, The Crane Wife, last week.

Sometime between that first record and the latest one, the Decemberists discovered a couple of things: 1) an electric guitar, and 2) the work of Styx circa "Lady."

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Their 1870s meets 1970s aesthetic actually works for the most part on this record. Thematically, it's a loose song cycle based on a Japanese folk tale involving a man who takes a crane woman as his wife. The album includes two lengthy multipart songs: "The Crane Wife," which is broken up into "Part 3" (which opens the album) and "Part 1 & 2" (which comes near the end of the record), and "The Island," a track that sounds something like a prog rock epic about immigration, class struggle, dueling, and drowning. "The Island" features a section that nicks the warblely synth line from "Band on the Run," with the twist that it's performed by a string quartet. Part of "Come and See," the first section of "The Island," sound like something out of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer or post-Tommy Shaw Styx.

But lest you think it's all epic-length story songs, fear not: the Decemberists can knock together a folky, poppy song in the 3-4 minute range with ease and poise. "Yankee Bayonet" is an effortless, sprightly tune about...well, a Civil War soldier and his lady love. "The Perfect Crime No. 2" races along breathlessly. "Shankill Butchers" is a creepy, old-fashioned "keep the kids in line" lullaby with a slow, stuttered rhythm. "Sons and Daughters" closes the record with a sweet, folky surge and a note of hope.

The album really holds together well as a whole, though "The Island" does drag after awhile and "The Crane Wife" could've been condensed to one part rather than three. But really, it's a solid collection. The songs are strong and evidence a growth and a great sense of songcraft. It's not for everyone--not everyone is gonna groove on subject matter mostly drawn from the 19th century--but for those that can dig into it, it's a very rewarding listen.

~chuck

Song of the Moment: The Decemberists, "The Perfect Crime No. 2"